A century ago, eleven brave hearts, wearing the Green and Maroon jersey, created history by winning the IFA Shield. If members of the Immortal XI were alive today, they would have been ashamed after seeing some of the performances of Mohun Bagan this season. It was a season which began with a lot of optimism but rendered one disappointment after another. This season, the Mariners finished without a single trophy – the first since 1973. Another damning façade of the season was the inability to defeat arch-rivals East Bengal – even once. TheHardTackle takes a look at how the 2010-11 season unfolded for Asia’s oldest club.
Kolkata Football League
This was a strange campaign for Bagan in KFL. In some matches they steam rolled the opposition, defeating George Telegraph (7-0), Tollygunge (4-0), Kalighat (4-0), WB Police (4-0) while in others they struggled to defeat teams like Aryan. Muritala Ali was the star performer in KFL, as he scored goals at will. With eighteen goals, Muritala was country miles ahead of the rest of the pack. He scored hattricks against George and Mohammedan AC and also scored a brace, deep into injury time, to get a priceless 2-1 win over Peerless. In the end, it came down to the derby match to determine the champion. The Green & Maroon slumped to a 2-0 loss in the derby – handing the title to arch-rivals East Bengal.
Green & Maroon’s favourite tournament was perhaps their best showing of last season. After an indifferent draw against Mumbai FC, the Mariners needed a strong performance against eventual I-League winners Salgaocar. In that match, Stanley Rosario’s team cranked up the style – waltzing to a 6-1 win with hattricks from Barreto and Muritala. A gritty performance in semi-final ensured that Bagan knocked out last season’s I-League winners Dempo in tie-breaker. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal squared off against each other in the Fed Cup final. Bengal won the final 1-0, after a controversial match, where referee Dinesh Nair cancelled out a Mohun Bagan goal dubiously.
When Bagan participated in the IFA Shield, it was their only chance to salvage the season. After having lost out in all other tournaments, winning the Shield a hundred years after Immortal XI’s win, would have done some justice to their memories. Teams like Dempo and Salgaocar didn’t participate while Churchill and East Bengal had sent weaker squads, giving Bagan a good chance. Edeh Chidi and Ashim Biswas were in prime form in the tournament, scoring four goals apiece. Bagan defeated Aryan, Pune FC and Southern Samity before facing Churchill Brothers in final – a repeat of the final of last edition of the Shield. Sadly, the final outcome was also similar, as Churchill captured the title.
Bagan started the campaign with a draw at Pune, as Snehashis Chakravarthy scored a brilliant free-kick. Disaster struck soon, as the Mariners went down to lowly HAL in a home game. In truth, Mohun Bagan’s I-League campaign never really took off! It was plagued by indifferent performances and unexpected draws and losses. Good moments were rare in the I-League, as an injury ravaged squad struggled to cope with the schedule pressure. There were a number of embarrassing defeats against Dempo (1-4), Viva Kerala (2-0), ONGC (2-1). Jose Ramirez Barreto scored a brilliant goal to earn a 1-1 draw in an ill-tempered first leg derby against East Bengal. However, Bagan slumped to another derby loss in the return leg – 2-1. A small consolation for Mariners in I-League was the fact that champions Salgaocar never managed to defeat them. Bagan won 3-1 in the away leg and drew 2-2 in Kolkata.
The worst loss came against the rookies from Indian Arrows in last match, perhaps a good summary to Bagan’s season. The Green & Maroons went down 4-0 in first half – against a team comprising of mostly youngsters and devoid of any foreign player. They clawed their way back in second half to make it 4-3 but couldn’t prevent Indian Arrows from grabbing a 5-4 win. This was the first time, since losing 5-1 against Vasco in early 2000s, did Bagan conceded 5 goals in I-League. Eventually Mohun Bagan finished in sixth position.
Reasons Behind Mohun Bagan’s failure this season
1. Inability to build a ‘squad’: Mohun Bagan officials failed to bolster all areas equally. They spent a fortune on buying strikers but didn’t buy enough players for central midfield or defence.
2. Injuries: Not having a proper pre-season and not utilizing Salt Lake stadium’s artificial turf for practice proved to be detrimental for Mohun Bagan. A number of players got injured after playing on YBK’s turf.
3. Poor choice of foreigners: Muritala Ali was bought for an unnecessarily large amount. Despite a bright start to the season, Muritala was never really a big match player, as he missed easy goals in many I-League matches. Buying the eternally unfit Diamond Star meant Bagan effectively used two foreign players, as Barreto too was frequently injured.
4. Unsuitable Coach: Stanley Rosario was a poor choice to begin with. His last stint with a big club in Kolkata ended unceremoniously; he struggled to deal with the immense pressure of managing a big club and made numerous mistakes. In fact, Roasrio was tactically out-thought in many games. Subhash Bhowmick got a demotivated and injury ravaged squad. However, he should have done better against some of the smaller teams.
Let’s recap some of the (very few) memorable moments from season 2010-11.
Mohun Bagan 6-1 Salgaocar (Federation Cup)
Mohun Bagan headed into this Fed Cup group game knowing only a win would guarantee progression. Stanley Rosario fielded a 4-4-2 formation with Ishfaq and Gouranga on the wings and Diamond Star played as the defensive screen. It was the wingers who made a big difference, as Salgaocar’s full-backs struggled to cope with them. Shilton Pal made two crucial stops when the match was goal-less before Barreto put the mariners ahead on 11th minute. The evergreen Brazilian scored a stunning goal by dribbling past three defenders to make it 2-0 after 21 minutes. Another super strike from Muritala made it 3-0, as Barreto completed his hattrick to make it 4-0 on 34th minute. Muritala would complete his hattrick later, as Mohun Bagan ran out 6-1 winners.
Jose Ramirez Barreto (Mohun Bagan 3-0 Port Trust, KFL)
Before starting this match, Barreto was suffering from Dengue for two weeks. He was not fully fit against Port Trust but he still managed to perform wonderfully. Port had dominated possession in first half, as Bagan struggled to create chances. Just before the half time whistle, Kingshuk delivered a cross towards Barreto – with two Port defenders blocking his view it was difficult for him to receive the ball and score. Instead, Barreto did something which only special players can do – he unexpectedly flicked the ball delicately with his left foot. Port defenders and the goal-keeper were left stunned as the crowd celebrated.
It’s saddening to see Chidi leaving Bagan at the end of 2010-11 season. Since joining, he had been one of the best players for the Mariners. Even this season he was Mohun Bagan’s best player, despite Muritala scoring more goals. Initially Chidi struggled for fitness, as he didn’t have a proper pre-season training. Once he returned to full fitness the Nigerian was unstoppable. In January, Chidi helped Bagan put together its best run of form in this year’s I-League. He scored six goals in three consecutive matches, as Bagan bagged a hattrick of wins. What made his effort more commendable was the fact that he played despite learning about the tragic death of his mother. His professionalism was applauded in the enrite Indian football fraternity.
Despite Mohun Bagan playing some shocking matches this season, the worst moment title will go to an off-field incident. Weeks before the I-League ended, posters against Jose Ramirez Barreto were put up in club premises. This was a disgraceful incident – Barreto is easily a modern icon of the century old club and he is the last person, who deserves treatment like this. Putting up posters against players in the area of Asia’s oldest club is also condemnable.
Mohun Bagan endured one of the worst seasons in its glorious history in 2010-11. In order to do a turn around, the club needs to rebuild its team for next season. Till date, the officials seem to be moving in the right direction having made three marquee signings in the form of Odafa Okalie, Syed Rahim Nabi and N Pradeep. However, the mistake made in last season must not be repeated – along with good strikers, it is also essential to get good defenders. Mohun Bagan must also employ a capable coach and a proper team of physios to keep the players injury free. Stability in management and patience is the need of this hour. Bagan fans and officials must give proper time to a coach to achieve success.